The homelessness emergency we can't ignore

Now is the time for Christians to act

This National Homelessness Week (7-13 August), over 120,000 Australians are without a home on any given night.

As we face the worst housing crisis in living memory, Phil Chapman, Executive of Chaplaincy & Pastoral Care at Mission Australia, discusses why Christians should care.

In Australia, the headlines are dominated by the cost-of-living crisis, which is pushing more people every day to the brink of homelessness.

The latest Census showed that more than 120,000 people were experiencing homelessness on Census night, an increase of five per cent in five years.

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Most are facing hidden homelessness, which means they are staying in severely overcrowded dwellings, refuges, boarding houses, or temporarily living with friends or family.

Families are being forced to make the dire decision between paying their energy bill or paying their rent each month.

Every hour, 3000 people in Australia seek help from homelessness services.

Every day, our chaplains, support workers and volunteers at the coal face are witnessing new levels of homelessness that we have never seen before.

Every hour, 3000 people in Australia seek help from homelessness services like those provided by Mission Australia (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022).

That is 3000 Australians. 3000 stories. Every hour.

We see people going to work every day and clocking off to go to sleep in their cars for the night because they cannot afford a rental home.

Homeless man

I have heard heartbreaking stories. A young man called Jack* struggling with bipolar and schizophrenia sought assistance from our frontline workers after becoming homeless.

Just imagine how frightening it would be to deal with severe mental health concerns and not have a safe place to call home. Imagine your own son or brother or friend not having a place to go and not being able to get the care and support they need.

The truth is, the increased cost of living and lack of social and affordable housing is pushing more and more people into homelessness.

We are also seeing domestic violence, a shortage of drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, and increasing prevalence of mental health challenges – all factors which make people more at risk of becoming homeless.

We need to work within our communities to focus on the homelessness emergency that is growing around us.

Many people are living day to day and pay cheque to pay cheque; they are just one rent increase, or personal emergency, or energy price hike away from a crisis. People like Jack are left distressed and feel completely abandoned.

In Australia, the so-called ‘lucky country’ this reality is unacceptable.

But as Christians, we don’t despair because we know there is always hope. Our hope lies in knowing that our great God is in control, he’s close to the broken-hearted and keeps his children’s best interests – their eternal interests – at heart. So, we need to see every person in our community with his eyes, not our own.

There was hope for Jack. After engaging with our services, Jack began meeting with our chaplain. About nine months later, he gave his life to Jesus, and he hasn’t been the same since.

That distress and frustration gave way to hope and he now attends a local church weekly. He is studying a Certificate IV and is saving money for his own place.

As Christians, we can’t ignore the issue – there are too many other Jacks who need our help today.

We need to work within our communities to focus on the homelessness emergency that is growing around us and work together towards long-term solutions.

As Christians, we can’t ignore the issue – there are too many other Jacks who need our help today.

Just like in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s much easier to judge someone’s situation than to offer to help or ask what can be done to meet a need. We get to decide to show up as either the judging priests passing by or the Samaritan who stepped up where no one else would.

Now is the time for Christians to come together and show Jesus-shaped action through: praying, giving, volunteering, serving and just asking the question, ‘What can I do to offer hope to people who need it most today?’.

The problem may be homelessness, but the solution starts with hope and a heart for Jesus.

(1) ABS (2021) Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness

*Name changed to protect the identity of the people Mission Australia helps.